Jesus gives us two parables in Luke 14, one surrounding a wedding feast to which you are invited, the other regarding a banquet of which you are the host. He is showing us again, in a personally poignant way and in a clear and obvious way, how different the Kingdom of God is from earthly kingdoms.
Everything in earthly cultures perpetuates a fear of being at the bottom and a drive to get to the top. We want to be in an elevated position, socially, economically, vocationally, whether it is achieved or assumed. We are very status conscious. We desperately want the place of honor, the place of recognition. And Jesus speaks to our practical sensibilities first, before driving home the Kingdom reality.
He appeals to our fear of humiliation and embarassment. He says the best case scenario if you assume a high place, is that you remain there, but there is a real possibility you suffer the shame of being publicly outed. On the other hand, if you assume the low place, there is no shame but there is a possiblity of public honor and recognition.
He has madethe case logically and emotionally here, but then v. 11 drives home the spiritual reality. The honor and recognition you want from earthly status is conferred upon us by the God of the universe, when we take the low place voluntarily. Your desire for recognition and honor is in no way demeaned or denounced by Jesus. He simply says your supposed strategy for attaining it is wrong. The low place is the place of blessing.
The parable of the banquet, then comes at this same issue of status from the opposite angle. You aren't trying to reach for status anymore. You are the person in the high position. What's the temptation there? To gravitate toward and associate with only those people who are on your level in some sense.
Jesus says to ignore that impulse. If you settle for the shared earthly of cultural elites, or societal equals, you may well miss out on the shared status with Him, as God's own Son. God has highly prized and hospitably invited the outcasts and misfits like us, into his family and kingdom. And when we do the same from the earthly standpoint, we demonstrate that we understand our status apart from Christ and the status we have received by God's grace in our union with Christ.
If you're status conscious, or position obsessed, Jesus is telling you that in and through him you can receive the highest honor, the most elevated status, and the richest reward imaginable. But you have to think about earthly matters from a heavenly perspective.
A Prayer for Humility:
God you are so highly exalted in every way... you sit enthroned above, and I am but dust. There is no earthly status I can achieve that can exalt me to acceptibility or noticability before you. To be known and accepted and even delighted in by you is the greatest status anyone could ever have. And I have set my eyes far too low. Today, empower me to take the low place and direct my eyes to those in lower places. I want the honor of being known by you, dining with you, and being rewarded by you. They can have this vain world. Give me Jesus.
Here's where the God who is love demands that we hateour family members if we're going to follow him. There are those that would use this text to speak of the Bible contradicting itself, but Jesus is speaking in hyperbolic terms to drive home the seriousness with which we must take following him. He isn't promoting hatred and the fracturing of families. Jesus is driven by love and reconciliation and his followers are called to a ministry of the same.
Jesus is talking about proportion of love and devotion required to follow him faithfully, which is to be far greater than even our love for family. He knows that family bonds are foundational and strong. He knows that family systems are powerfully shaping. That's true in virtually every human society throughout history, but it is especially true of the Jewish culture throughout their history, and this is a primary audience of Jesus' teaching.
And if people are going to seriously consider walking with him, and following after him, than they deserve to know and are best served in considering the cost of that decision. Jesus is telling them, and us, that surrendering to Christ means that personal family relationships and powerful family systems which must also be submitted to the reality of Jesus. He does not become on factor among many to consider in our lives, he becomes the controlling, determining authority of our lives. And in some cases that may well mean that we retreat from family relationships or reject family systems which undermine our faithfulness to Jesus.
It's a wonderful thing to follow Christ with the full support of your family. But that's not everybody's experience. Many of us follow Jesus in the face of criticism from our family. They demean us, They distance themselves from us. They argue against us or accuse us. Following Jesus can cost us the most imoportant and stabilizing relationships, and Jesus is saying that's okay... that's even to be expected at some level. He's not salesman peddling all the benefits and none of the drawbacks. He's paiting a real picture of what's coming for us if we follow him, and what's required to follow him. Don't be surprised by rejection, loss, isolation, criticism, resentment and pain that comes your way, specifically because you are following Jesus. Don't expect it to be easy, comfortable and fully supported by everyone. If you follow Christ, you will suffer because of it. Know that going in.
Jesus knows how lonely this can be too, but he's accounted for that. That's why he brings us into a new family, the Church, and connects us to brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers who are also following him. We need a spiritual family who will now be our relational foundation and who will create a new, healthier system rooted in Christ, and driven toward faithfulness to him. God does not pull us out of family to leave us to a life of independence and isolation. He brings us into a new family to connect us more deeply than ever to a life of interdependence and community.
The bottom line is that following Jesus will cost us dearly. We will certainly have to change how we relate to everyone and everything in some way. We may well have to give up what we cherish most altogether. Jesus will jack with your life. He will have you rearrange and reconsider everything. But he will be worth it.
A Prayer for Willingness:
Lord, I hold so many things back. I guard parts of my life and protect things I cherish from you. I am afraid if I let you really take over that you won't let me keep anything I love. There is so much fear and uncertainty in me. I don't want following you to hurt. I want it to be a guarantee that everything about life is better. I've even believed at times it was supposed to be that way. But you've never sold me that. I renounce the idea that following you should be comfortable and cost me little to nothing. And I accept Jesus' own words, that to follow him will cost me. I will have to be willing to endure difficulty specifically because I'm identified with Christ. Father, give me a willingness to suffer for the sake of following Jesus. Give me a willingness to lay down what is most precious to me if it means I can be close to Jesus. Give me a willingness to distance and detach myself from that which keeps me from walking faithfully with Christ. Let be all in for Jesus. Amen.
It's funny how yesterday we read about and considered our own willingness to suffer ridicule and rejection on account of following Jesus. In Luke 15 we see that Jesus is willing to suffer ridicule and rejection on account of forgiving and becoming friends with us. He is willing to associate with the outcasts, the marginalized, the guilty, the lowly, the unimpressive, the corrupt, the despised. It's not only that we suffer in following Jesus. Jesus clearly suffers to have us follow him. The criticism he receives here gives us a glimpse into what the cross will more fully reveal.
Why does Jesus make a point of pursuing with and identifying himself with those whom society has defined as deviant in some way? Not because they have a greater degree of need or lostness than the Pharisees or the put together. But because they feel their need and lostness to a far greater degree than the Pharisees or the put together. They are aware of their inability to be what they need to be or to fix what is broken in them. While the "righteous" perceive themselves as already fixed and unbroken.
And so Jesus loves to identify with the hurting, the guilty, the lonely, the rejected. He loves to draw near to people who have nothing to offer. Jesus isn't needy so he's notinterested in what we have to offer. He's interested in providing for all that we need. But in order to receive that, we need to know our need.
This is Jesus telling us that union with him is achieved through our repentance, not our righteousness. You bring your repentance, he provide the righteousness, and God and all the angels in heaven will rejoice.
A Prayer for Exchange:
Lord, I keep wanting to inject me into the equation of my life. I want credit. I want praise. I want recognition. I want to stand on my merit. And yet Jesus tells us that 99 righteous people with no need for repentance have nothing on even 1 repentant person. So, why am I trying so hard to impress you and other people with what you are unimpressed by? I give up. I give you all of me... all that's within, and all that that has produced. I exchange that for all of Jesus, and all that he has provided. That's an unfair trade but it's the one you've offered and I'd be a fool to keep deliberating over that. I'll take it. I give you my nothing and receive your everything. Forgive my stupidity and sinful clinging to myself, and put me to death so I can enter fully into life with Christ. Amen.
This story is really meaningful to me... God used Tim Keller's book, Prodigal God, which explores this parable in depth, to have the gospel come alive for me in a profound way. So, when I read the parable it's hard not to be mindful of what God showed me more than 10 years ago.
Specifically, I saw then, for the first time, the depth of brokenness and relational distance from the father which characterized the older brother every bit as much as the younger brother. That mattered then because I was the older brother, for the first time realizing my sense of entitlement and blindness to my own need, was robbing me of God's gracious provision for my need. Rather than enjoying him and being grateful to him, I had spent much of my life feeling I earned or deserved the best of what he had to offer... I felt somewhere deep in my heart that God owed me. And for the first time, I was awakening to my need.
That was painful in some ways, but it was glorious, because for the first time in my life, I was letting God be God, and I was seeing both myself and Him in the light of day. I thank God for helping me see then, as he is now, how my sense of earning what has been freely and graciously given to me keeps me from experiencing the sweetness of his grace.
There is a symmetry in this parable which is really poignant, wherever we find ourselves... we probably all of in us an older brother streak as well as a younger brother streak. The wayward son, who demands his inheritance but wants nothing to do with the father, represents that side of all of us, which just rejects God outright. We want his blessings, his provision, his riches, but in order to indulge ourselves and spend it on our impulses. It's easy to see the brashness and rebellion of the younger brother. When we eat in pig sties long enough, it's easy to see the error of our ways and coming to ourselves, as the younger brother did, is an obvious place to arrive. The slop of our lives makes it hard to deny the sin that's led us there.
What's far more surprising and far less obvious is the older brothers relational distance from the father. He was the good son. The one who did what he was supposed to, dutifully, for his whole life. He stayed close. He worked hard. He was responsible. He was loyal. He was reliable. But as he thumbs his nose at the grace shown his younger brother, we find that, like the younger brother, his heart was to earn the blessings, provision and riches of the father. His repudiation of God's grace to his brother was really a rejection of God's grace shown to him, because he showed the inner sense of entitlement and earning from the father, rather than as a receiving from the generosity of the father.
Both brothers were after the father's inheritance, and had little interest in the father himself. They just went about it differently. Both brothers felt they were owed what the father had, and neither was grateful for what the father provided. The reall ironic part is that, in the end, the younger brother is re-attached to the father at a heart level. He actually encounters the grace of the father and is able to enter into the felt love of the father. It's the older brother, the one good at being good, who ends up outside the party, at a distance, resentful for the love the father showed the undeserving, because he saw himself as so much more deserving.
I wonder about you... do you see yourself as deserving more than what God has given you, or as deserving nothing of what God has given you, particularly in his own son, Jesus? He's given us all the same grace to cover our same guilt. But the condition of our hearts will either warm us to God's love for us because we know we've done nothing to earn it, or our hearts will be be cooled to God's love because we deserve more than what others have already received. Either way, the Father is inviting us into the party, to receive from His fullness all that our hearts long for... the only price of entry is need. To share in his riches, we have to come to the place of seeing ourselves as those being given a place at the Father's table, not as those earning a place at the Father's table.
If you are above the need of the younger brother, than you'll end of on theoutside looking in like the older brother.
A Prayer for Joy:
Father, I want to experience the joy and celebration of the younger brother being received back into the Father's household. Forgive me for having squandered much of what you've given to me. Forgive me, too, for the ways I've felt entitled to more what you can provide. I've spent so much time on that which leaves me in the pig sty. And I've spent so much time sitting close to the house and the party, while letting pride and resentment keep me out of the party. I want in. I want to enter into your joy. I want delight in your grace. I want to rejoice over your work the lives of others. And I want to rejoice over the undeserved kindness you've shown me. Help me to see my own need... to come to myself... and to stop pouting at a distance... draw me close, into the feast of your grace and love. Restore to me the joy of myself salvation, and cause me give up the charade of earning what you so freely given. Amen.
This parable is summarized at the end... You can't serve both God and Money. In the parable itself, the dishonest manager is commended and rewarded for his dishonesty. His own boss sees his shrewdness, and the crookedness of his dealings and praises him. Why? Because both of them serve the same god. The rich man can trust the dishonest manager because they both worship money. In the end, the makes the manager useful to the rich man. And these are the kind of terms on which the world operates.
But if you are going to follow Jesus and worship God, you have to renounce any such allegiance to wealth and money, or any other such earthly idol. And this will set you in opposition of others. To operate with a kingdom mindset within a worldly system will provoke others against you. Playing the corporate game, and using manipulative measures to attain a higher status or accumulate a higher wage, will earn you a certain kind of trust with a certain kind of person, to be leveraged within a certain kind of system, which will land you in a certain kind of place... if you operate within the confines of the kingdom of darkness, and embrace the values and methods of the kingdom of darkness, then you will be right at home in the kingdom of darkness.
But Jesus is inviting them to live above the worldly system, and operate outside of those corrupt and short sighted norms. He calls us to faithfully steward our time, talent and treasure as members of His Kingdom, and according to the values of His Kingdom. Our faithfulness with earthly things, even great riches, will only eer fall in the category of faithfulness with a little. So what we value here, and live for here, and worship here, will determine where we spend eternity.
There is certainly the warning of judgment here, but notice that which Kingdom we live for here determines which kingdom we will spend eternity in. God invites all people into his Kingdom, and he gives all people access into His Kingdom, but those who prefer the kingdom of earth and of darkness, will get the desires of their heart. Judgement is essentially the eternal securing of what we've always wanted and consistently chose anyway.
A Prayer for Faithfulness:
Lord, I want to be faithful, according to your standards. I am enticed by and drawn to the things of the world. I value earthly treasure and human approval. I value physical comfort and pleasure. I value social status and influence. But I want oneness with you. I want peace and reconciliation with you. I want to walk faithfully with you and to honor you. Give me the wisdom and steadfastness to live daily as one whose aim is faithfulness to you. Let not the approval of man and the gain of riches, seem better at any moment, than your approval and the gain of godliness. Give me the moment by moment discernment to live for your kingdom even in the midst of earthly kingdoms, so that I might enter into the fullness of life with you now and forever. Amen.